Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges Prison

Country France
GPS 48° 43' 36.48" N, 2° 27' 17.64" E
Address Chemin du Fort, 94190 Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, France
Dates Active 1941 – 1946 (or later)

Channel Islanders imprisoned in Fort de Villeneuve Prison:

Sidney Ashcroft, Kingston George Bailey, Désiré Auguste Berezay, Clement Wilfred Bourgaize, William John Burton, Walter Allen Stanley Dauny, Frederick Peter Duquemin, Geoffrey Ernest Delauney, Charles Albert Friend, Thomas John Gaudion, Paul Desire Gourdan, Gordon Montague Green, Stanley George Green, Jack Harper, Patrick McCloskey, George John Frederick Morcel, Thomas Patrick Nelson, Philip George Ozard, Philip John Potier, James Thomas William Quick, William George Quin, Patrick Quinn, Frederick Winzer Short, Herbert Percival Smith, John (Jack) Soyer, James Tardivel, Frank Hubert Tuck, Cornelis van Ooststroom, Frederick Frank Vasse, Frank William Whare, William John Windebank, John Ernest Frederick Woods


By Roderick Miller

At least 32 Channel Islanders were incarcerated between 1942 and 1944 in Fort de Villeneuve in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, just southeast of Paris in the Val-de-Marne department of France. The fort was built between 1876 and 1880. It was probably taken over by the Nazis soon after the June 1940 occupation of France and was, like many political prisons in occupied France, run by a German administration, in this case consisting of a German officer in charge and three German gate guards. Other than the gate guards, the rest of the prison staff was French. According to some accounts, Fort de Villeneuve was used on numerous occasions as a location for the Gestapo to shoot French prisoners in reprisal for acts of resistance.

French priest Abbé Raymond David described his entrance into Villeneuve in 1942 in his book ‘In French and Nazi Prisons, 1941-1945’:

We were crammed in 25 to a room in room number 5. This was one of 13 rooms in the fort. Three windows gave a bit of light, but the entry was completely in darkness. The water trickled from the walls and collected under my bedstead in a small recess so I could splash around in 2 centimetres of water. In winter, the only heat was our own breath.

The first of the Channel Islanders be imprisoned in Fort de Villeneuve was former police constable Frank Whare in April 1942. Several islanders were probably still imprisoned in the fort at the time of the liberation by allied forces in August 1944. The living conditions in the fort were deplorable:

…conditions and treatment were deplorable for the 400 prisoners (approx.) which included French, Belgian, Italians etc., many of which were of Jewish religion, awaiting transport to Germany. We slept 50 to a room on beds of straw. Vermin was at its height (lice, bugs, fleas) and the sanitation and washing facilities were practically nil. A galvanised dustbin with a wooden plank for use as a W.C. was issued to each room for sanitation purposes and was emptied twice daily (morning and night) so the smell in the room as you can imagine was terrible.  Washing facilities consisted of four small taps running out of a wall where one had to cup one’s hands in order to gather enough water to swill your face. No baths or showers, so being impossible to wash one’s body. Razors were forbidden, there being no facilities whatsoever for haircutting and shaving so you can imagine what a sorry mess we all looked… Food consisted of a semi starvation diet, two small cups of watery soup daily with two slices of dry bread and one thin slice of meat or cheese fortnightly and finally for good measure the Nazi guards would raid and search the rooms on an average twice weekly (day or night) and each of us in turn would get a beating up by getting struck with their rifles and kicked. —Frederick Short, 15 January 1965

Kingston Bailey added in his memoirs that his time in Villeneuve was monotonous in the extreme, broken up by 30 minutes of exercise per day and a flourishing black market, in which the warders participated. During the time that Bailey was in Villeneuve (June 1942), the prisoners were still receiving Red Cross parcels. The English prisoners were also given extra parcels from Marie and Suzanne Hubert, friends of a pro-British French warder in the prison named Marcel Prevost. These parcels contained food, cigarettes, soap, clothing, English books and even, on occasion, money. According to Bailey, these women were eventually arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Fresnes Prison, but survived and were decorated by General de Gaulle after liberation.

The freight train yards in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and the nearby Juvisy-sur-Orge district were heavily bombed on the night of 9-10 April 1944 by the Royal Air Force, and prisoners at Fort Villeneuve were forced to perform the potentially lethal work of digging out unexploded bombs, according to the testimony of William Windebank. John Soyer managed to exploit the opportunity of being outside the prison on a forced labour detail to escape from Juvisy on 9 June 1944.

However bad the conditions at Fort de Villeneuve may have been, for many of the Channel Islanders things would get much worse as they were transferred to German prisons and concentration camps. Some of the luckier ones were able, after serving their sentences, to be reunited with their families in internment camps in Germany, where they received relatively good treatment. Philip Potier was let out of Fort de Villeneuve Prison on 30 April 1944 and apparently returned to the Channel Islands. Australian-born Channel Island resident Thomas Nelson, who had arrived in Villeneuve from Saint-Lô Prison on 14 April 1944, was lucky enough to have been liberated from Villeneuve imprisonment on 17 August 1944.

As of this date (2016), little is known about the Nazi staff of Fort de Villeneuve. Certainly the fort was staffed in part by the Gestapo, but the details of their identities have not yet been published. Abbé Raymond David quotes a German sergeant as saying: ‘The High Command of the German Army made Hubert, a simple workman, into the commandant of Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges.’ The exact identity of Commander Hubert is not yet known. Fort de Villeneuve was used to intern German POWs soon after the allied liberation in August 1944. The fort currently houses a unit of the Paris Fire Brigade and is occasionally open to the public.

All of the Channel Islanders imprisoned in Fort de Villeneuve survived their wartime captivity except for Jack Soyer, who was shot by German troops when they entered Bréhal, Normandy on 29 July 1944, and Percival Smith, who died as a result of abusive treatment in an Augsburg Gestapo Prison.  Many of the Channel Islanders who survived would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.

Further Reading

Bailey, K.G.1979 [1958]. Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.

Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.

David, Abbé Raimund (Raymond): In französicher und Nazi-Haft 1941-1945, durch Leiden zur Versöhnung!, Verlage Andreas Thoma, 1989 (in German).

David, Raymond (Abbé David): Du bagne français au bagne nazi (1941-1945), 3e éd., Montsurs, Résiac, 1974 (in French).

Sources

Bailey, K. G.: Dachau: All the Horrors of Nazi Occupation, 1958. Reprinted May, 1979. C. I. Marine Ltd., Guernsey, C. I. Chapter 6, ‘Paris’, pp. 41–46.

The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/1353 (Bailey)
TNA FO HNP/1367 (Bourgaize)
TNA FO HNP/2164 (Burton)
TNA FO 950/1748 (Friend)
TNA FO 950/1373 (Gaudion)
TNA FO 950/1263 (Gourdan)
TNA FO HNP/3507 (Gordon Green)
TNA FO HNP 2085 (Stanley Green)
TNA FO 950/2187 (Harper)
TNA FO HNP 2766 (Quick)
TNA FO HNP/3608 (Quin)
TNA FO 950/1224 (Short)
TNA FO 950/1161 (Smith)
TNA FO 950/962 (Tuck)
TNA FO HNP/2342 (Whare)
TNA FO HNP/1005 (Windebank)

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